Our first stop after leaving the Amman airport was the town of Madaba. This town of 30,000 is known for its mosaics found in the town’s medieval churches. Of course, we never looked for the churches, but quickly found mosaics in the various stores in the town’s version of souks.
Our first purchase of the trip was indeed a “tree of life” mosaic, now proudly hanging in our living room. The next few hours were a frenzy of looking, buying, looking and buying, and looking some more.
We ended our time in town with a nice, cheap lunch in a funky, Jordanian café with Persian rugs for a ceiling. Typical of the trip, we struck up a conversation with an elderly Jordanian man who went out of his way to find us directions to the Dead Sea. As an aside, we found the people of Jordan to be incredibly welcoming. I can’t count the number of times people said, “Welcome to Jordan.” Anyway, the fact that we couldn’t follow this man’s directions was not his fault. This half hour mistake would cost us soon enough.
After getting headed in the correct direction, we rounded the top of Mt. Nebo, the reputed place where Moses died (says so in the Bible, which is good enough for me). We did not stop….no place to park. On the drive down Mt. Nebo we saw for the first time the stark, rocky beauty of the Jordanian hills. You think Vermont is rocky? Not compared to Jordan. Our destination was Betheny Beyond the Jordan, the spot historians and Biblical scholars agree was where John the Baptist baptized Christ. Understand that I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school from grades K-6, and while I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I still started to get goose bumps as we approached the entrance to the site. OMG! Literally! This is where Christ was baptized! Am I really here? YES! Except for the fact that it was 3:15 p.m., and the place closed at 3:00. 😦 A major bummer! Oh well, I got close.
Just a few miles down the road was a public beach on The Dead Sea, where we stopped for “a float”. As you wade into The Dead Sea, you get no sense that this water is any different than water anywhere, until you begin to lower yourself down into this intensely salty, almost greasy water. Then you feel the buoyancy begin to hold you up. Float is exactly what you do…with no effort at all. It truly is a unique experience. The water does feel greasy, and they strongly advise visitors not to try to swim or to put your face into the water. Really good advice.
After watching the sun set over The Dead Sea and The West Bank of Israel, or Occupied Palestine as it is known in these parts, we headed down the Dead Sea Highway towards Karak, our intended stop for the night. We arrived in Karak around 5:30 in the dark of the early evening, and with the help of Kristina’s best Arabic and some friendly locals, we found our hotel.
Our next challenge was finding something to eat. While Karak is the home of a large, well preserved Crusader/Mamluk castle, it sees few Westerners, or anjabies (foreigners) of any make. After getting directions to a restaurant from the hotel owner (who spoke as much English as I speak Arabic) we headed into town. The place we think he sent us to was full of men playing cards, drinking soda and smoking from naghilas. No women, no food. We gave up on that in spite of the owner’s attempt to convince us to stay. We drove around the block a few times, went the wrong way on a one-way street, but eventually found a street with a few eateries. Again, they were all full of ONLY men, playing cards, drinking sodas and smoking from naghilas.
Do you think we got a few stares? Certainly did, but never once did we feel uncomfortable. We sat in one more of these establishments before the owner kindly directed us across the street to a stand up/take out shwarma (think gyros). The meat is sliced off the large skewer, put in a pita like piece of bread with lettuce, maybe vegetables, a yogurt type spread….very yummy. OK. This will do. Again, this is not a tourist town, so only one person in the place spoke at most 3 words of English. As is the case in Jordan, he did his best to help. So we ordered 3 Shwarma sandwiches. Rebecca, Kristina’s daughter is a vegetarian, so Kristina tried to ask for one with no meat. Having seen them place fries (French fries are VERY popular in Lebanon and Jordan) on dishes (Styrofoam take out containers), she asked for fries also. We waited with all the men…never a woman in any of these places…wondering how in the world were we going to know when our order was ready. But we just stood there enjoying the experience. Before we knew it, our sandwiches were handed to us. YUP! Three sandwiches, with no shwarma, but full of French fries. Nothing like a French fry sandwich at the end of a long day of travel. But who cares? We are in Karak, Jordan, eating with the locals, and heading to a camel ride and a night sleeping in a Bedouin tent. Don’t do that every day. Stay tuned.